I’ve noticed a trend as I’ve been talking with people about psychological safety, trust, and Negative Sentiment Override (NSO). Overwhelmingly, the first thing people ask me is “How can I get someone to realize that they are negative?” Hmmm. They don’t realize it, but that’s a loaded question.
First, it’s important to remember that each of us can only change one person, and that is ourselves. We cannot force other people to change their behavior. I mean, let’s think about it. How would any of us react if someone walked up and said that we were negative and needed to change? If you immediately thought, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind. I might be negative sometimes,” you probably aren’t negative. If you immediately thought, “Well, I’m not the one that needs to change here,” chances are pretty good that you are in NSO. At the very least, you are not seeing the other person as someone with needs, dreams, rights, and ideas that are equally important as your own.
We must start with ourselves. The question we need to ask is, “How can I invite the behavior that I want to see in others?” We can’t force another person to behave better, but we can influence others’ behavior by our own.
For example, let’s say that I have a significant other who comes home late all the time, and it really annoys me. I mean, I manage to get home on time! I’ve talked with my significant other about it and told him that it really bugs me when he doesn’t get home when he says he is going to be there. He says that he understands my irritation and will try to do better.
The next day he gets home 10 minutes later than he planned. I am angry, AND I have choices. I could yell and berate him for being 10 minutes late. What behavior am I inviting from him with that action? Am I creating motivation for him to come home on time – or at all? OR I could greet him at the door with a smile and say that I appreciate his effort and that he was only 10 minutes late. What behavior am I inviting from him then?
So before you go all outraged on gender stereotypes here and ask why I, or you, should have to pander to a significant other who is late, let’s look at this from a leadership perspective. As a leader, I want certain behaviors from my employees that will guarantee their success and mine. It’s important that they finish projects on time and work with a professional attitude. If someone is late turning in a project, I have choices.
I could yell, or at the very least make him or her feel really bad about the lateness. What are the effects of that? Am I creating more positivity in our relationship or less? Am I motivating the person to do better? Maybe, in the sense that they don’t ever want to go through the experience of being shamed again, but that’s a negative motivation that usually results in the person looking for another job. Remember that for the most part, people quit their bosses, not their jobs.
So, as the leader, I need to pause and consider the outcome that I want from our conversation. The first thing that an exceptional leader always wants to do is enhance or maintain the relationship. I don’t want to damage the relationship if I can help it.
Does that mean that I just let everyone slide and break the rules? Not at all! However, it does mean that I don’t get to yell, berate, or shame anyone. It means I see everyone as a person with needs, dreams, and obligations equal to my own. This concept is explained with a story in the book Leadership and Self-Deception.
First, I want to get curious and ask what’s going on. (Honestly, if the project is more than a day late, I should have been checking on it already and asking what was going on.) I want to know what caused the lateness, but not from a blaming perspective. I need to know what happened, so I can work with the employee to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I want to ask how I can help in the future and what the employee can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The outcome I want is for the employee not to be late with a project again AND to maintain a positive relationship. If lateness is a chronic problem, we have a coaching issue that we need to focus on, but when someone is trying, it’s a leader’s job to provide support and remove obstacles, not humiliate.
So, the first question to ask ourselves is, “Am I acting in a way that invites others to produce the outcome that I desire?” If you still call that pandering, you are missing the point of great leadership. It’s our job to bring out the best in others, and we don’t do that with anger, shaming, and humiliation. We do it with curiosity, compassion, and respectful enforcement of necessary rules.
The bottom line is that we see people as people and treat them as we would like to be treated if we made a mistake.
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